Árpád Schilling’s report on the two-week CNAC summer workshop
In 1999, with Máté Gáspár I had the chance to see CNAC’s eleventh - year student performance in the Parisian La Villette, which we found utterly inspirational. It was around then that we started to work abroad. We played Bertolt Brecht’s Baal in the Union of the Theatres of Europe’s festival in Strasbourg. At the same time I was giving a six-week course for the graduating acting class of the local National Theatre (TNS). We were putting Chekhov’s Platonov on stage. Although we found ourselves in an exciting and inspiring milieu, what we saw in the big top seemed to us an enchanted, magical world, beyond our reach.
The CNAC - is the most important state-sponsored circus arts school where new directions in circus arts are researched and taught ever since 1988. (The New Circus – Nouveau Cirque- is a Quebec-originiated New Wave of circus arts. Established in the early 1980’s it combines traditional circus, contemporary theatre, music and dance, so that they blend into a cohesive dramaturgical form.)
Students, seeking admittance to the school from all over the world, are required to have experience in at least one of the traditional circus arts, such as the Chinese rod, the trampoline, acrobatics, etc. Once accepted, these skills are further developed through dance classes, aesthetics and philosophy courses, instrumental training and theatre practice, etc. so as to broaden students‘ creative horizons. Students practice for a year and a half according to their own, individually designed schedules. Afterwards, they collectively prepare an exam performance under the guidance of an invited choreographer or a director. They perform their first exam performance in Chalons-en-Champagne, then in Paris’s La Villette, and later they go on a European tour, occasionally even out of Europe as well.
A decade ago, I was amazed by what I saw on stage, since the performers were not only excellent acrobats but real circus artists: acrobats, actors and musicians, all at the same time, who even presented their own work within the collective performance. It was possible to identify each of their fields of interest and their sources of inspiration. We both wished we‘d had the chance to do the same kind of work ten years ago.
This dream came true in 2009. I’ve been asked to lead the work of the current 21st promotion and direct the students‘ exam performance, following in the footsteps of Joseph Nadj, Georges Lavaudant (ex-head of the Parisian Odeon Theatre) and other well-known theater directors. The premier will take place in Chalons-en-Champagne in December. After visiting Paris and other French cities the team will head to the Southeast in the spring. We plan on touring Malta, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Hungary.
Krétakör will be a co-producer in the preparation of the show. What follows is an outline of the production’s underlying directorial directions set up after the first workshop. In these workshops, I see my main task as giving students guidance so that they can freely adapt their knowledge, creativity and -intellect to their art. In order to do that successfully, I have to understand their intentions, - know their field of research and be aware of thier process and what level they are at in their chosen area of study-. For this reason, the preparation of the show is preceded by a period of getting to know one another which takes longer than usual. Throughout this period I conduct interivews with the students and their instructors, I study the videos they make, and then lead training sessions in which we work and perform together.
We need to be aware that this performace will be the students‘ final exam. Although this fact does not exempt me from my potential mistakes as an instructor, it is good to keep in mind what we will be watching. In this case, it is not the director that matters most but rather the students who participate in the production. We’re working toward a collective goal, yet keeping the individual interests of the students in mind. Hopefully, our goals will not diminish the quality of the performance; instead we hope that the performace will supplement the experience with a new dimension---a new reality. If each student can demonstrate their expertise with a complete expression of feeling, if they can perform and explain to the audience what the profession considers improtant as well as what is considered improtant for the audinece to see and understand, we will have reached our goal. We would like to see students taking part constructively in one another’s work and, once they leave the school and go on tour, we would like to see them earning the respect and love of the audience everywhere.
Report on the CNAC’s two-week long workshop
In September 2009 we invited the graduate class of CNAC with the intention to start the three-month long collective work in Hungary. During their stay we organised a professional and public meeting in Budapest. Students of the Hungarian School of Artiste and their French fellows teamed up for a class on the 17th of September.
We organised a professional meeting in the Krétakör Center on September 19. It was a good opportunity for all the professional representatives to meet the French students. The Hungarian participants were asked to give a short presentation about their works, and their conception of circus theatre. The meeting ended with an informal conversation. We organized this meeting in the hope of exchanging experience which can hopefully be the base of further cooperation.
We organised street-actions on the 21th of September to find practical application to what we had previously talked about.
The largest Hungarian internet news portal (Index) reported on the event in a separate column.
Another video has been produced by NOL, the most significant daily paper.
As an event concluding the French students and teachers‘ visit here we held a mini-symposium and a performance on the 23rd of September. In the first half of the evening the students impovised using the decoration designed for a previous performance.
Afterwards teachers of CNAC talked about the new wave of Circus Arts and its international import.
First of all pedagogical counsellor Gwenola David talked about the evolution of the this new direction. He told us that like other contemporary initiations the Nouveau Cirque is one of the achievements of the spirit of 1968. Although it does have political connotations, it is primarily the offspring of an aesthetic revolution. The revolution’s aim was to abolish the traditional circus paradigm (absence of narrative, putting animals on stage etc.) Gwenola emphasized that, although this new direction in theatre had only been around for thirty years it already is vulnerable to conservation because of the dominance of theatrical concerns over those of the circus. The school sees the restoration of the balance as its most important task.
After Gwenola’s speech, Catherine Copperé described the function of the school. According to her, the three-year training aims at a successful career start for the students. The most significant means to achive this is the students‘ exam performance that gets a lot of publicity in France and in other countries as well. The school calls upon the artist who creates the performance two years in advance in order to allow him and the students time to get to know each other. The school’s only stipulation is that each student should perform in his or her own area of excellence in the production, which is to be held in a round shaped tent. The group has four months to prepare, and they set off on a tour after the first performance. The purpose of the international tour, apart from the performance itself and getting acquainted with constant traveling, is the networking with local circus artists.
The third speaker was Fred Cardon whose lecture was about students‘self-promotion training. His lectures are mainly about how to organise, distribute and finance a performance. Moreover, students get to know about the employment opportunities in this field, they also get an insight into what it means to be employed in practice, how to create budget calculations and to make contracts. In terms of projects they study what kinds of projects can be realized and what are the reasons if others are not sustainable or simply not feasible. According to Fred, the favourable change in cuture politics made it easier to finance circus productions in France, including groups and host facility operations alike. In France there is a very strong connection between the centers of education, festivals and host facilities.
The new circus is quite a new stream, therefore their resources is far more limited as dance art or theatres. Neverthless, recently there are more and more opportunities to go on a tour and make the group known abroad which is quite frequently multicultural in itself.
As the last speaker of the symposium, Árpád Schilling explained the circumstances of his being called upon and the upcoming challenges. As he said, it would be his very first direction in which he is about to put seventeen different individual world views , ideas of art and manias together in one integrated unity. This is why he reckons himself as an organiser or dramaturg rather than a director who represents an exact style or concept. According to him, he will react to specific situations, he will try to explore both the participants’ personalities and the opportunities he had never known before in circus theatres. The participants‘ personalities will be put in the limelight with a simple framework. Similar to his previous plays he will not use either scenery, or costumes, the artists will play in general lighting. The URBANRABBITs, as the play’s title goes, will not be an exposition of one single story, but a string of individual chapters conveying individual thoughts. Due to the speciality of the venue and the tour itself, the performance will be a real public event that will not only be addressed to critics and highbrow intellectuals. In connection with the performance a blog will be released in two or three weeks, where those who are interested will be able to follow the events of the rehearsals and the tour.